Sluggish apps more than just annoying, study says

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Federal employees are muttering under their breath about stuttering or crashed applications that can take a day or even more to fix, according to a new study from a performance management technology provider.

A survey by Riverbed Technology of over 350 federal employees found that slow IT applications are not only blocking those employees' abilities to get their jobs done, but are also killing confidence in their IT support.

Riverbed provides performance management, hybrid networking, cloud, Software Defined-Wide Area Networks, and software-as-a-service.

Although 77 percent of the study's respondents, which included both defense and civilian agency employees at all levels of seniority, said their agencies have a clearly defined process for reporting problems with applications such as Skype, email and Powerpoint, 32 percent said it takes more than 24 hours to get problems fixed.

Those applications are also being asked to deliver more, more quickly, as agencies modernize their networks and more to digital platforms. According to the study, 98 percent of respondents said latency issues were hampering their agencies' productivity. Fifty-four percent said speed/load time was a significant issue, while 47 percent said crashes/freezes were a top frustration.

Far from being a simple annoyance, crashed or stalled applications can gnaw at an agency's mission, said Davis Johnson, vice president of Riverbed Technology's public sector. The State Department's Skype application, for example, has to be backhauled through a trusted internet connection, which can slow it down. Add in other difficulties and an app that goes down for 24 hours can impact the crucial collaborative function of the service.

The issue of balky apps, Johnson said, can be aggravated by an agency's move to the cloud. "The cloud is a more complex environment. The end user is farther away from the app" than he or she might have been when an agency relied on in-house data centers, he said. "The path the app takes to get to the user is more complicated."

Some agencies, Johnson said, have been more adept than others in addressing the issue. "The [Department of Veterans Affairs] and the Internal Revenue Service have a pretty sophisticated set of tools" to wrangle their various applications for users, he said, pushing capabilities further out towards the edges of their networks.

The best thing agencies can do to avoid perpetually slow, cranky apps, Johnson said, is to make performance management a part of system design criteria in the initial request for proposals issued to potential providers.

"Specify performance dashboards and tools up front," he said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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